Democratic voters are in the majority in the city, but this year’s slate of the party’s candidates for local offices has yet to be announced. The Republicans announced a full slate of candidates weeks ago.
Once upon a time there was an overwhelming Republican majority that held power in this town for decades. As the city grew and the demographics changed, Republican influence declined. In recent years they have not been mounting a full slate of candidates, and control of the Council has been in Democratic hands.
Just two years ago, Democrats won four of the five City Council seats and had consistently been running full slates in city elections. That was then.
This is now:
*Two Democratic incumbents, Mayor Meg Kelly and Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan, decided not to run for re-election.
*The Democrats first choice to run for Mayor , Jason Golub, withdrew. A second candidate interested in running, David Snyder, has disappeared from the political scene. Ron Kim is now filling that slot.
. *After a long, fruitless search for a Finance Commissioner candidate, Democratic Committee Chair Sarah Burger put herself forward for the office. She has now taken herself off the ballot with no replacement in sight.
*Commissioner of Accounts John Franck, a 16 year incumbent who was running again, has now also just taken himself off the ballot.
*Dillon Moran, Democratic candidate for Commissioner of Public Works, has taken himself off the ballot. Mr. Moran was an unsuccessful candidate for this office in 2019.
It is possible that the Democrats will come up with new candidates to fill these three now vacant positions, but that must happen by this Friday, April 2.
Rumor has it that city Democratic Chair Sarah Burger will be stepping down at the committee’s April meeting.
I sent a text to Ms. Burger to call me for comment, but I have not yet heard from her. I will post whatever she has to say.
If you want to comment for this Zoom meeting you must register on the City’s website.
The only change from the previous version that my brief scan found was that the “independent advisory committee” that will be charged with overseeing the implementation of the resolution will be appointed by the Mayor rather than the Commissioner of Public Safety.
Seven of the thirteen members of the Saratoga Springs Police Reform and Reimagine Task Force have written to the City Council condemning Police Chief Shane Crooks for his recent letter, report, and questionnaire to “stakeholders.” They assert that he has intentionally misrepresented the work of the Task Force in order to undermine their work. They write that the “Cover letter seems like an attempt to undermine a majority Black Task Force.” All seven of the signatories are Black.
I have previously posted the full version of the chief’s letter, report, and responses to his questionnaire.
I think this letter (see below) makes some points in criticizing the chief’s letter but an exploration of their allegations is impossible without an environment in which the issues can be thoughtfully explored.
Attacking someone for bad faith is the end of any discussion.
What makes me sad is that at a time when this community most needs to enter into a thoughtful discussion of policing and racism, our ability to have a dialogue seems now even more remote.
In this world, only the powerful benefit when there is a culture of anger and unbridled suspicion. In such a world money and force are the currency of action. Not reason. We cannot afford this.
Chief Crooks is not the enemy nor are the signatories of the letter.
[JK: I have tried to incorporate pages from Chief Crooks report and questionnaire into this post. Due to technical issues, I could not manage the type size of the text so these pages may be difficult to read, depending upon the device you use. With that in mind, I have provided a link to the full report.]
Saratoga Springs Police Chief Shane Crooks has written to the City Council expressing his concern about the lack of adequate outreach to “stakeholders” by the Saratoga Springs Police Review and Reinvention Task Force (SSPRRTF).
In his letter he highlights text from Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order 203 in support of his concern.
In his letter he asserts “…that the task force declined to meet with key stakeholders defined in the governor’s executive order such as the DA’s office or the Public Defender’s office stating that the Council can do it. I took it upon myself to reach out to the DA’s office, the Public Defender’s office and members of our downtown area community.” Chief Crooks writes that he identified thirty stakeholder groups from whom he sought responses. He notes that while some responded fully in writing, others spoke to him, while others did not respond at all. His cover letter, his report, and the responses to his questionnaires can be found here.
The letter identifies a number of items where the responses to his survey conflicted with the findings in the SSPRRTF report.
He contrasted the SSPRRTF document that asserted “Very worried about over policing in certain (BIPOC and/or lower income) communities – esp. Geyser Crest” with statements from the president of the Southwest Neighborhood Association where Geyser Crest is located, who advocated for “additional patrols including a substation.”
He noted that the SSPRRTF included a comment from their survey that advocated for the elimination of mounted police who were characterized as threatening while a response to his questionnaire from the president of the Southwest Neighborhood Association described the same mounted police as enthusiastically embraced by children in her neighborhood.
He referenced the SSPRRTF allegation that claimed “…over policing of people of color, youth, and low-income residents (statistical in-city data over multiple years supports this notion).” He noted that the SSPRRTF offered no supporting data and that the police department did not keep records regarding the income status of people arrested.
Taking The Time To Learn About Our Police Department
Chief Crooks has crafted an extensive report exploring a number of key dimensions of the police department. Wherever you stand on the recent controversies, engagement seems key to making better decisions. With that in mind I strongly urge readers to take the time to read his report which begins on page 4 with this:
The report goes into considerable detail describing the different specialties of the city’s police officers (K9, horse, traffic, etc.) along with where, how, and when they are deployed (beginning on page 8). Below I have extracted from the report a number of items but the report, including the appendixes are worth the read.
Use of Force and De-Escalation
Procedural Justice & Bias
This section discusses how complaints regarding police personnel are handled
The Stakeholder Questions
The report includes responses to police chief Crooks’ questionnaire. The responses were not always uncritical.
Terry Diggory is a member of both the Saratoga Immigration Coalition and the Saratoga Springs Police Reform and Reinvention Task Force.
Mr. Diggory is a person of integrity who merits attention.
Mr. Diggory responded to the question, “Do you believe the department should conduct more or less training?” that “The issue is quality, not quantity.”
To “Do you have questions/suggestions about our use of force?” he responded, “Policy should focus more on de-escalation.”
Mr. Diggory had a number of other observations that are worth reading. Most helpful and interesting was input he solicited from LifeWorks (formerly Saratoga County EOC). Christy Nowhitney Hernandez is the deputy director of Lifeworks and works with backstretch workers. The questions she replied to came from Mr. Diggory.
Ms. Hernandez notes that “Based on EOC client reports of interactions with the SSPD, interactions in recent years have been markedly more productive and professional than in previous periods [JK: I expect that the leadership of the current chief of police may have contributed to this].
Ms. Herandez reports on some troubling examples of past interactions with the police regarding immigrants and people of color.
There are additional responses from Paul Ruchames, executive director of BEST (Backstretch Employees Service Team) and Joan Odess, Immigrant Services Manager at EOC. Both of them focused on the need for Spanish speaking translators to assist the police.
Saratoga Casino Hotel On Handling Police Related Issues
The casino questionnaire was quite revealing. They discuss the many difficulties they must deal with given the very large numbers that pass through their facility.
The police do an excellent job in deploying staff to maintain the high standards of safety enjoyed by citizens, businesses, and visitors, but during peak periods of police requests for service, responses are delayed and police time at scene become abreviated leaving bad feelings by those in need.
The entire questionnaire is quite an eye opener. It makes sense that a casino will face major issues of crime and disorderly behavior. Here is their response:
It is important to acknowledge the work of the Saratoga Springs Police Reform and Reinvention Task Force. The members of the committee have provided a valuable service to the city in promoting policies that should strengthen our local department. This is particularly noteworthy as they did so with little in the way of professional support services and within a very limited period of time.
It is a testament to the city of Saratoga Springs that it has so many people willing in a variety of ways to demonstrate their concern over the issue of racism and the use of excessive force targeted at people of color in this country.
The struggle for social justice, however, needs to be tempered by a careful, and critical assessment of our own local police.
I am disheartened by the fact that the leadership of the local protests ignores or dismisses the fact that in spite of multiple demonstrations that flaunted the laws of the city to make their point, no one has been injured and I include in that assessment the July 30 event.
The reason that no one has been injured is that Police Chief Shane Crooks actually places the protection of both the protesters, his officers, and the public as the starting point for addressing demonstrations.
A blanket condemnation of our local police only contributes to the excesses and craziness that have erupted across our country.
Police Chief Shane Crooks has demonstrated a willingness to place the use of force in enforcing the law within the context of the basic mission of his department to protect and defend. This kind of leadership should be encouraged if we are to move forward.
This is not to dismiss the merits of a civilian review board (CRB). The design of institutions should not be based on personality. An effectively crafted CRB would contribute to creating a culture of openness and accountability. Currently the public assessment of the police has relied on anecdotal allegations and rumors. All of this has been further tainted by the death of Darryl Mount and the poorly managed investigation following his death.
I am sympathetic to the impatience of many who want to see a CRB approved and implemented today. My fear is that a poorly designed CRB will fail and contribute to greater anger and distrust. As so often is repeated, “the devil is in the details.”
The City Council resolution to adopt a police “reinvention” resolution includes timelines for establishing a committee to research and craft a CRB. This is an important step. I believe that the members of the City Council are operating in good faith in extending the work on a CRB. Time will tell.
Phila Street Historic Properties Saved from Demolition
The Design Review Commission voted unanimously to deny the application to demolish the historic building at 65 Phila Street. While the Preservation Foundation sees this as a positive outcome the Foundation hopes the owners will now be required to preserve the building or sell it to someone who will.
The application to demolish 69 Phila Street was withdrawn by the applicants as they have entered into a contract to sell the property to someone who is intending to preserve the building.
Planning Board Expresses Reservations On Proposed Stewarts Project
The Foothills Business Daily has been doing an excellent job covering local issues.
This is a link to a story from them about a proposal by Stewarts for a development near where Route 9 (Marion Avenue) meets Route 50. It includes an upgrade to their shop and construction of homes.
In order to get the variance they are seeking they need to provide a public benefit. Currently the benefits they are offering are sidewalks.
On Tuesday, March 23, 2021, the City Council held a special meeting to seek input from the public on a proposed Council resolution regarding the recommendations made by the Saratoga Springs Police Review and Reinvention Task Force. Many people spoke during the hour and a half event and all comments supported the adoption of the recommendations of the Task Force. Most spoke forcefully that all fifty reforms should be adopted exactly as presented by the Task Force, and they were critical that two of the items were to be studied for further refinement. I do not think it unfair to observe that there was an air of suspicion among the speakers that the Council was attempting to somehow undermine the reform effort.
Is the City Required To Accept All of the Task Force’s Recommendations?
A number of the people who spoke at the meeting asserted that the City Council is required to accept and implement the Task Force’s recommendations as submitted. They asserted that were the Council not to accept the Task Force’s recommendations in their totality that the city would be violating the Executive Order that required its establishment and would therefore jeopardize funding from the state.
The Governor’s Executive Order 203 requiring communities to look for ways to improve police procedures includes the following language:
Such plan shall be offered for public comment to all citizens in the locality, and after consideration of such comments, shall be presented to the local legislative body in such political subdivision, which shall ratify or adopt such plan by local law or resolution, as appropriate [JK: My emphasis], no later than April 1, 2021
The key words here are “as appropriate”. It is simply not credible that all the communities in New York State would be required by the state to adopt whatever changes their appointed task forces propose. If this were the intent why bother with taking the step to submit the proposals to local governing bodies for adoption? Why not just submit them directly to the state? It is in the end communities’ elected governing bodies who are given the final authority to determine and implement the plan.
Almost of the fifty recommendations by the Task Force were accepted in their entirety by the City Council, but there were two items that they felt required additional consideration and refinement.
It is important to note that one proposal from the Task Force simply conflicts with existing law. The proposal deals with “diversion of seized assets.” Wikipedia notes a seized asset “…typically applies to the alleged proceeds or instruments of crime.” The full description can be found at this link.
The Task Force had called for the proceeds of these seizures to be allocated to “Community Based Restorative Groups or, alternatively, community service organizations.” According to the city, the stipulation of how these moneys are allocated is restricted by the law that established the seizure program and under this law the Task Force proposal would not be allowed.
The Council determined that the detailed Task Force proposal for a civilian review board required further research and review. [JK: The relevant text in the report can be found on in Appendix A beginning on page 84] The Council resolution accepted the establishment of a civilian review board but required as part of the implementation the appointment of a committee to craft the language that would create the review board. The Council was concerned that the investigative function of the board needed to withstand potential legal challenges. This decision generated strong objections from the speakers at the meeting.
The resolution established a timeline for its committee in order to address the concerns about accountability.
The Council’s draft resolution of their response to the Task Force’s recommendation stated:
Civilian Review Board
With regard to the Task Force’s recommendation to implement a Civilian Review Board, the City Council recognizes that there has been history and debate surrounding this issue. The City Council further recognizes that many cities in New York State have implemented some version of a Civilian Review Board, some with great success and others with limited success. Additionally, the City Council recognizes that there may be legal, union, City Charter, and implementation concerns that limit the Council’s ability to implement a Civilian Review Board.
Accordingly, the City Council approves the Task Force recommendation to
develop a Civilian Review Board in principle while calling for an evaluation period of the potential legal, union, Charter and community elements that could impact the ability to adequately develop a Civilian Review Board. The review period shall be outlined in the implementation plan and may include, but is not limited to, legal review of NY Civil Service Law and due process rights by the City Attorney and external legal counsel, negotiations with the police union, evaluation of collective bargaining concerns, benchmarking against other cities successes and failures relating to implementation, and finally, the specific process, scope and limitations of the Civilian Review Board. The review will also assess the funding requirements.
The review will be conducted by an independently appointed panel with monthly updates to both the City Council and the public. At the end of the review period, and based on the totality of findings, the City Council, with input from the community, will make a final determination concerning the implementation of a Civilian Review Board.
Can Passion be Tempered by Prudence?
I think it was rather inspiring that so many people in our community felt so passionately about combating racism and about the need to address the epidemic of police violence nationally that most of us see all too often on the evening news.
It is understandable that they felt an urgency to address this violence and that they directed their energy to try to establish reforms locally. It is also understandable that they were frustrated by any suggestion that would require delay.
This is all exacerbated by the reality that for many in the community the members of the Council appear as foreign, talking heads rather than people. Ignorance breeds fear and anger.
I can only offer that this writer knows all the members of the Council and that I believe that they are earnest in their desire to establish procedures to root out racism and to ensure that our police are protectors of everyone rather than predators.
Consider the Council’s approach to the appointments to the Task Force. If the Mayor and the Council were hostile to change they would have filled the positions with reliable cronies. In Schenectady the Mayor and the Police Chief chaired the Task Force. In contrast, Mayor Kelly authorized the other members of the Council to join her in making appointments knowing that the appointees would be individuals who would rigorously and independently scrutinized the existing policies and culture of the police department.
It is unfortunate that the Council, particularly the Mayor and Commissioner of Public Safety Robin Dalton, have now become the targets of a great deal of hostility from many members of the community as a result of simply doing their job as elected officials to carefully evaluate the recommendations of the Task Force particularly in terms of what will withstand legal challenges that the changes could potentially incur.
Anyone who knows the Mayor knows she does not make promises she knows she cannot keep. The Council could have simply adopted all the Task Force’s recommendations knowing that some could not be legally implemented and that poorly crafted programs might be unnecessarily costly and hard to fund. Imagine the public’s resentment if the Council cynically did the politically popular thing and adopted all the proposals knowing they would be reneged on later. This is exactly why people become cynical and angry at politicians. Unfortunately many members of our community rather than appreciating this forthrightness resent this and see it as obstructionism.
John Franck v Meg Kelly
At the meeting there was a sharp exchange between Mayor Kelly and Accounts Commissioner John Franck. Here is a link to a channel 13 news report that includes video of part of the exchange.
A little background is in order.
Mayor Kelly, in drafting the resolution that would adopt the city’s response to the city’s Task Force proposals, was careful to seek input from her fellow Council members. Given the controversy over the implementation of some of the proposals, it seemed especially important to seek a consensus on the resolution.
At the Mayor’s request, City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis met individually with all the City Council members to go over the original resolution.
Early in the week Mr. DeLeonardis and Police Chief Shane Crooks met with Commissioner Franck to review the proposed resolution. Commissioner Franck indicated that the language of the resolution was acceptable and he would support it. He did not suggest that he would oppose the resolution and support instead adopting the Task Force recommendations exactly as written.
Following the posting on the city’s website of the original resolution and the feedback the Mayor received, working with Mr. DeLeonardis and Chief Crooks, the resolution was rewritten. The second resolution was less lawyerly as it went through the recommendations by the Task Force item by item. It also included language about establishing a timeline to resolve the outstanding issues.
This revised version was sent to Commissioner Franck and all Council members seeking input. Commissioner Franck, rather than advising the Mayor and his fellow Council members that he wanted the city to adopt the Task Force program in totality and that he would not support the Council resolution, made his position known by talking to a reporter from the Times Union. The rest of the Council learned of Commissioner Franck’s change of mind in the Monday edition of the Times Union.
At the public meeting Tuesday Franck basically acknowledged that there were some problematic issues with the Task Force’s proposals but told his colleagues, in effect, let’s not sweat the details. We will work all of this out later.
Little wonder at the Mayor’s response.
What Commissioner Franck was cynically suggesting was that it was better to please the crowd now and worry later about telling them that some of what what they had given them could never happen or would appear in a different form.
The Task Force has been successful but that success should be tempered by the fact that one resolution does not end the struggle. A civilian review board must be designed to succeed and it will require funding by a future Council to make it happen. All of that requires continued public engagement.
Reform is an endless endeavor. The Task Force has been incredibly successful in developing a plan that has Council support. I expect the resolution presented on Wednesday night will be tweaked to make that clearer and it will pass but the story will continue and hopefully have an eventual happy ending.
Rather than condemn and abuse the City Council, they along with the Task Force deserve great credit for making this happen.
Tonight (March 23, 2021) at 7:00 Mayor Kelly has scheduled a special meeting to solicit public input on a proposed Council resolution that would adopt recommendations from the Saratoga Springs Police Review and Reinvention Task Force.